Black History Month: The Hip Hop Trailblazers

By D.L. Chandler

As RapFix continues its Black History Month coverage, we’ve decided to profile three pioneering legends of hip hop. These trailblazers belong in the annals of black music history.

The Creator

DJ Kool Herc (born Clive Campbell)

The Kingston, Jamaica, native is widely credited as the creator and “father of hip-hop” and the claim is well supported by historians of the genre. While he never grew to prominence as a recording artist or as part of the machine, Herc’s contribution to the basic framework of hip-hop music lasts to this day. The DJ borrowed heavily from his homeland’s dancehall tradition of “sound systems” and the art of “toasting” which meant to simply talk boastfully over a record a DJ would play. Herc incorporated that party style of DJ’ing into his own sets when he began to spin in and around New York City in the early ’70s. Herc’s most notable contribution is the introduction of the term “breakbeat” and the later terms “break boys” and “break girls” – which later became shortened to “b-boys” and “b-girls”. When Herc played a party, his focus on the record he would spin would be the break or instrumental segment, which would be the favorite section of the dancers in attendance.

The Architect

Afrika Bambaataa (born Kevin Donovan)

Once a respected and feared gang warlord with the Black Spades, the young Afrika Bambaataa would eventually have his world view shifted as a result of winning an essay-writing contest for which the future legend would travel to Africa, thus inspiring Bambaataa to change his gang’s focus on community development. Influenced by DJ Kool Herc and others, Bambaataa began playing parties in his South Bronx neighborhood and organizing his group, then called the Bronx River Organization and which later morphed into the Universal Zulu Nation. The Zulu Nation is now an international movement with members stretching as far as Japan and into many parts of Europe. As a member of the Soulsonic Force, Bambaataa’s largest musical contribution to hip-hop was the electro-boogie hit “Planet Rock” and spurned a host of imitators in the early ’80s.

The Innovator

Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph Saddler)

The Barbadian-born Flash is most known for being an innovator in the art of DJ’ing, in particular, scratching, cutting and mixing. While many credit Grand Wizard Theodore with inventing scratching, all facts point to Flash taking the art form to higher heights. As a young fan, Flash was inspired by DJ Kool Herc and DJ Grandmaster Flowers; he studied them closely. From there, he began hosting his own parties and eventually formed his own group, the legendary Furious Five. Along with MCs Melle Mel, Kid Creole, Cowboy, Raheim and Scorpio, the crew forever changed the perception of hip-hop and even its rhyme schemes with many of their routines remaining a staple in hip-hop today.